With Nonito Donaire out of the picture because of the monkeyshines played by fight game overlords—promoters and networks—Abner Mares and Anselmo Moreno face off tomorrow night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, in a matchup of topnotch junior featherweights.
Fights between bantamweight and featherweight ought to be easier to make since there is less margin for profit in these divisions—and, therefore, less risk–but Donaire, it seems, has other plans. Somehow, “The Filipino Flash” tabbed Toshiaki Nishioka as the biggest challenge in the junior featherweight division. Only a selective memory—or poor powers of concentration—could force someone to omit Abner Mares and Anselmo Moreno from a list of potential legitimate challengers. In addition, his goal to unify alphabet trinkets seems to stop, conveniently, at the ones he already possesses. Both Mares and Moreno are Alphabet Soup vending machine champions of one kind or another. On the other hand, Donaire will fight four times in 2012—almost unheard of for a headliner these days—and he has faced, for the most part, competent opposition. Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., and Jeffrey Mathebula are both capable professionals, and Nishioka, despite his age and a career that stretches back to the Clinton Era, was considered one of the better junior featherweights.
But the P-4-P hysteria so common today has already made Donaire a multimillionaire. This, perhaps as much as his affiliation with Bob Arum, is what may separate him from a fight with the winner of Mares-Moreno. Already Jorge Arce is lined up to play canary in a coalmine against Donaire in December, and the winner of Mares-Moreno will likely fight a Golden Boy appointee next spring. If Donaire is going talk about cleaning out his class and being some sort of great, then he needs to acknowledge his competitors, give Top Rank a nudge, and draw fewer boos when he fights.
Instead of sitting on the sidelines or mixing it up with second-raters—where everyone, not just the second-raters, loses—Mares and Moreno will bypass all grandstanding and actually swap blows. Sans Donaire, this is the best pairing that can be made at 122 pounds, and Golden Boy actually deserves—gasp!—credit for making it.
Abner Mares, 24-0-1 (13), has the attitude of a real prizefighter, and there is a difference here between attitude and attitudinizing, which is what most headliners do in this era, when boxing economics are as mystifying as those of modern politics. With SuperPac funny money pouring in from premium cable networks looking to back certain cliques, Mares has had to work a lot harder than some of the one percent have in boxing. Not only is Mares ready to ply his trade whenever—and against whomever—but he is also a professional between the ropes. He has survived cuts, knockdowns, and scorecard deficits to win fights in the later rounds. Even repeatedly fouling Joseph Agbeko in 2011 showed a certain grim adherence to maintaining an edge. So long as referee Russell Mora was busy with his Know-Nothing impersonation, Mares was free to do as he pleased.
Although Mares, 26, has run a tough gauntlet over the last two years, he has been the clear winner in only one notable fight since 2010: a decision over Agbeko in their rematch last December. (Eric Morel, 36 at the time and a former flyweight, was something less than notable when Donaire outpointed him in a showcase mismatch in April.) Moreno will be looking to prevent Mares from squeaking out a narrow victory.
Smooth and precise as a pickpocket, Anselmo Moreno, 33-1-1 (12), is what every pro dreads deep inside: a cunning southpaw with fast hands and an elusive defense. Finesse is what Moreno brings into the ring, and finesse is what may shut down Mares from long range. If Moreno, 26, can control the fight from a distance, he will force Mares to open up in close. In that case, Moreno, San Miguelito, Panama, will get to ducking, deking, and dodging on the inside before coming back with odd countershots. Neither man has much power. Mares has not scored a KO since his last fight against a smear case at the Club Nokia, a.k.a. The Torture Chamber of Eric “Make-A-Gore” Gomez. (Who misses “Fight Night Club,” anyway? No doubt not even Oscar De La Hoya does. He is far too busy blocking Twitter users, revoking press passes, dissembling via every conceivable media method available, and setting Standard English back a hundred years.)
In order for Mares to win, he may have to outwork Moreno the same way he did against Vic Darchinyan in 2010. “Chemito” has a habit of doing just enough to get by and a slew of split-decisions over the last few years bears this out. Against Mares, who uses pressure as an equalizer when things get tough, Moreno cannot afford to be so selective. Especially since Mares, Montebello, California, has gotten the benefit of the doubt from judges and referees over the last two years.
In the end, this ought to be a hot argument for 12 rounds, one that Nonito Donaire will no doubt be watching until his professional ADD takes over and he reaches for the remote control.